Skip to main content

I’ve been at this creative entrepreneur game for a long time. I started my agency in 2002 and we executed on more than 2,000 projects during my agency run which ended in 2018 after I left the agency I sold to. It was a lot of pitches, a lot of wins, plenty of losses, and a lot of stress.

During that run, I started to see a lot of patterns in what makes projects win and what makes projects fail. After we vet a client and determine we are a good fit tot work together, there are two primary reasons that a project will succeed or fail.

1. Contract Accuracy

Our success is largely dependent upon our ability to determine what the client needs to solve the problem they are facing in their business. Once we understand the client’s needs, we must document our approach two solve their problem in a CLEARLY DEFINED CONTRACT.

2. Contract Adherence

After we have a clearly defined contract, we must STICK TO THE CONTRACT! We must hold ourselves and our client to the contract.

Contract Accuracy and Contract Adherence Are Key to Project Success

  • A poorly defined scope of work will fail a project.
  • A poorly detailed contract will fail a project.
  • If we have a good scope and good contract, but we don’t follow them, the project will fail.

In the archives of my agency and my books and courses, I have so many projects scoping questionnaires and checklists, it is hard to keep them all straight. I’ve been trying to solve these two causes of failure for a long long time.

In an effort to help you better understand your client’s needs, create detailed projects scopes and contracts, and ultimately succeed in more projects, here are several questions you can discuss with your clients before you engage in a project together. Please keep in mind, some of these questions will be discussion items between you and your client. Others are things you should determine on your own and then present your solution back to the client. This IS NOT a list that you robotically talk through with your client or send them in an online form. Discuss the project well enough so that you can answer these questions and you will be well on your way to solving point number one, contract accuracy.

General questions to understand for every project…

  • What does your business do?
  • What services do you provide?
  • How does your business make money?
  • What services are your biggest money makers?
  • What are the biggest challenges you are facing in your business at this time?
  • What services do you think you need from our team?
  • What is the deadline related to this engagement?
  • Is the deadline tied to a specific launch?
  • Is this project tied to a larger marketing campaign that we should be aware of?
  • Is this project replacing an existing (similar) marketing material for your brand? Or is it a brand new design?
  • Is there an existing brand design style that we will need to match?
  • Do you have a style guide for your brand?
  • Are their existing design assets that we must use in the project?
  • What are similar projects from your competitors or other companies?
  • What do you like and dislike about each of these examples?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Who are your main 3 competitors?
  • How would you describe your market position in comparison to each of your main 3 competitors?
  • What are the key performance Indicators for this project?
  • What outcomes would make this project be considered a success?
  • What content will be included on this project?
  • Will you need copywriting services? Or will you be providing approved copy for us to use?
  • Does the project need to be localized (i.e. converted to other languages)? How many languages? Will you be providing translated copy or is that a service you would like us to fulfill?
  • Will you need custom photography/a photo shoot? Will you need us to purchase stock photography? Or will you be providing photos for use in this project?
  • Will this project require any custom illustration?
  • Who will be our primary contact for assets and coordination with your team?
  • Who will be involved in the feedback process and what is the anticipated turnaround time for feedback on deliverables?
  • Who is the final decision maker on your team?
  • What is your budget for this project? How much do you plan to invest to solve this problem in your business?

Questions specific to website projects…

  • Outline how the project will be launched, including steps to publicize the launch.
  • Define target goal for this project and list adjectives describing it.
  • What features will need to be included in the website architecture and design to achieve this goal?
  • How will you drive traffic to the site?
  • What is your site traffic like now?
  • Describe the target user or users and their behavioral patterns.
  • What are the target user’s web comfort-level, probable hardware, spending patterns, software, and browser usage.
  • What is their comfort level with interactive online features, etc.?
  • Outline how site will be maintained on an ongoing basis.
  • What is the search engine optimization strategy?
  • What are the accessibility and usability strategies and issues for the site?
  • Will this project need front-end development services?
  • Will this project need back-end development services?
  • Will the site include a content management system?
  • Where will the site be hosted?
  • How many pages will the website include?
  • What is the expected content on the pages?
  • How many blog/news posts?
  • How many e-commerce SKUs?
  • Who will provide the site copy?
  • Where will the site photos come from?

Questions specific to print projects…

  • Outline how the project will be launched, including steps to publicize the launch.
  • Define target goal for this project and list adjectives describing it.
  • What type of print work does the client want to produce?
  • What are the dimensions of each item?
  • How many colors will be included in the design?
  • What is the volume of pages for each item?
  • Are there multiple quantities of each item expected?
  • How will items be bound or folded?
  • Who will write the copy?
  • Where will the photos come from?
  • Who will handle the printing?
  • Will we need to do press checks? How many?
  • Will we be delivering final printed product to the client?

Questions specific to branding projects…

  • Will we be creating an icon? Custom illustration?
  • Will the icon/mark have multiple variations? How many?
  • Will the icon include text or taglines to create a full logo?
  • How many variations of the main logo will be needed?
  • Will we be creating a new color palette? Or adapting and existing one?
  • Will we be creating new typography guidelines or adapting existing ones?
  • Will we be creating textures, graphics, or other imagery to correspond with the brand identity?
  • Will there be a brand usage guide included in this project? How big is it expected to be? How will it be delivered? PDF? Printed?
  • Will there be a full style guide included in this project? How big is it expected to be? How will it be delivered? PDF? Printed?
  • What other considerations should be defined in the proposal?

Here are a few things to consider as you use these types of questions in your discovery meetings…

  1. Not every question applies to every project. Use your judgement.
  2. Don’t ask questions you already know the answer to.
  3. Don’t send the questions to your client in a form or survey.
  4. Do use these questions as a guide to help you better understand your client’s needs and create a contract that will help them fulfill those needs.

As for reason for project failure number two, contract adherence. Once you have a well defined project scope in a clearly detailed contract, STICK TO THE CONTRACT! You and your client made an agreement. Now fulfill the agreement. If the client requests changes to the scope, you change the contract and price (with an addendum) before you make the changes and then you STICK TO THAT CONTRACT!

I hope this helps you improve your client on-boarding and succeed in more projects!

P.S. Since this post was lacking some “bling” I’ve included a little Mike Janda Bobblehead photo for you here…

Michael Janda

I am Michael Janda, an executive level creative leader with more than 25 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world including Disney, Google, Fox, ABC and NBC. I create books, courses, workshops, lectures and other training materials to help creative entrepreneurs run successful businesses.